After a big week in MMA saw the UFC launch its last season of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, Zuffa’s flagship organization finishes things with a bang as current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion “Bones” Jon Jones (13-1) looks to become a “true champion” by successfully defending his belt against hungry former champion “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (31-8). Kicking off the festivities is a heavyweight bout between two men looking to prove they are more than gatekeepers, “Hapa” Travis Browne (8-0-1) and Rob Broughton (13-4-1). The next two bouts on the card feature four men who need wins to prove not only to the Zuffa brass but to the fans that they deserve to fight on MMA’s biggest stage. “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi (29-8) entered the UFC as PRIDE’s last lightweight champion and promptly went 1-2. Nate Diaz (12-8) went from Ultimate Fighter to title contender to failed lightweight to failed welterweight. Both need a win to survive. Mark Hunt (6-7) went from K-1 star to a man who has expressed a complete lack of faith in his own abilities and his opponent, “Big” Ben Rothwell (27-7) is a former IFL champion who has yet to put on a memorable performance in the UFC. Serving as the co-main event is a bout with less dire implications. On late notice, “Kos” Josh Koscheck (15-5) has stepped up to face UFC Hall of Fame welterweight Matt Hughes (43-8). Koscheck has not seen action since December when“Rush” Georges St. Pierre (22-2) severely damaged his orbital bones, requiring surgery. Hughes, despite a fall from the dominance he once had, remains a viable threat in the division and is even more dangerous now because, as he once put it, he has nothing left to prove.
At First Glance: The first impression this fight leaves is that Hughes is in for a beating. This much can be seen from the fact that “Kos” is still a -500 favorite with even the most conservative bookies despite coming off a loss, an injury, and on short notice. Added to this is the fact that Koscheck is basically Hughes 2.0. He is a brute force wrestler with endless cardio who has developed fight-stopping power in his hands. Hughes isn’t without his advantages though. On a metaphysical level, Hughes has entered the phase of every great fighter’s career where they are most dangerous, his twilight. He has already held the belt, beaten his rivals, dominated his division, and entered the UFC Hall of Fame. With nothing left to prove, pride isn’t a factor. This means Hughes will not get sucked into the hype or the smack talk and more importantly, he will feel little to no pressure stepping into the Octagon.
In Depth: Both Hughes and Koscheck are built from the same mold; they are powerful cowboy wrestlers with endless cardio that hit like a train with every shoot, lateral drop, and head and arm toss. While Hughes has more refined boxing and “Kos” has more power, neither is a particularly good striker and each lacks anything remotely resembling an advanced submission game. The result is it comes down to Koscheck’s speed, athleticism, superior wrestling technique, and lust for the title against Hughes’ experience, power, size, and ability to remain completely unaffected by the pressure of a high profile fight. Koscheck should be able to gain control of the momentum early, a factor that will work strongly in his favor as he looks to make an example of the legendary champion. “Kos” is younger, faster, and technically superior to Hughes – this means once he has the control, it will be very difficult for the seven-time champion to regain it. It is unlikely that Hughes will make a mistake and allow “Kos” to finish him, but it is just as doubtful that he will capitalize on a Koscheck mistake in such a manner that he steals the fight.
Wild Card: There are books that can be, and in fact have been, written about how great an advantage it is to remain calm and relaxed in a bout. Pressure causes vision to restrict, breathing to lose its rhythm, reaction times to slow, and fighters to make mistakes they normally wouldn’t. If Hughes can take control of the fight early, there is every chance in his desperation not to lose control of the pace that Koscheck will mess up and find himself giving up his back or leaving himself open to fight-ending ground-and-pound. As Hughes is under no such pressure, he will be in a perfect position to take advantage of a major mistake.
The Verdict: Hughes fights because he loves to and likely couldn’t care either way, win, lose or draw and that is commendable, but there is something to be said for hunger. Rocky 3 happens far more often than Rocky Balboa and this is no exception. Koscheck may be coming in off a long lay-off and on short notice but he has a strong need to win and has the tools to do so. Koscheck via Unanimous Decision